Student Feature: Two Reflections on the Cinematic Masterpiece, “City of God”

Below are two student’s perspectives on the 2002 film City of God.

Reno Stramaglia

Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 film, City of God, is a work of art that is full of realistic depictions of the violence and drama associated with the impoverished favelas in Cidade de Deus during the 1970s. By utilizing the viewpoint of a young photographer (known as “Rocket”), this film immerses the audience within a story that needed to be told.

Based on a true story, Rocket experiences how the early influence of “Robin Hood-like” gangsters caused the growth of dark lawlessness and corruption within this Brazilian city. Although his peers and older brother, Goose, surrender to criminal activity in order to survive, Rocket struggles to avoid these temptations of misdeed. It is the sociopath, Li’l Zé, who leads the mayhem of murder and crime that takes place within the neighborhood. This film utilizes a wide variety of unique cinematographic techniques in order to convey the truth behind the activities of these gangsters.

Meirelles’ use of fast editing within the film helps to display the true nature of Rocket’s environment. From shot to shot, events happen in a fast-paced manner. Cutting to different depictions of violence within a small amount of time causes the audience to fully experience the chaotic environment. Life is hectic and stressful within these slums. Meirelles utilizes classical cutting in order to help the audience to understand this different way of living. In addition, music in this film acts in a similar manner. The fast rhythm suits the rapid depictions of action within the slums. The choice of music also acts to paint a picture of the Brazilian culture while providing the film with surge of energy to keep the audience on their feet.

To add to the excitement of the film, Meirelles keeps the camera moving in an aesthetic manner. Reverse dolly shots were used to create an unsettling experience. In many cases, the gangsters were depicted in this manner as they ran towards the direction of the audience.  This brilliant technique allows the audience to view the environment or engagements in which the character is running from. Aerial shots help to depict the run-down slums from afar, which helps to set the environment quite quickly. Meirelles uses other techniques to draw in the attention of the audience. In one moment, the camera revolves around the main character displaying the environment that he is trapped within. This revolving movement transforms into a flashback to depict Rocket within a similar situation in his past.

In City of God, freeze frames cause the audience to delve into internal emotions or backstory of each character. First-person narration supplements the action with information and insight. Meirelles transforms mise-en-scène in order to depict progression over time. In one scene, the evolution of a drug-dealer’s apartment is depicted.

Overall, City of God is a brilliant depiction of how life works within the slums of Brazil. In addition, the plot line is one that is very intriguing and filled with action. It’s not only a tale that needed to be told, but one that definitely needs to be heard.

Donatas Ruzys

“If you raise a snake, expect to get bitten.” Unfortunately, those who raised Li’l Dice never received his own words of wisdom. The 2002 film City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, is anything but what the title might suggest. The viewer is taken on an unforgettable childhood journey that is narrated by Rocket, a young boy who grew up in Cidade De Deus (“City of God”), one of the deadliest slums in all of Rio de Janeiro. From the very beginning, City of God is the type of film that captivates an audience with its unique visual style, letting the viewers know they are in for a true cinematic treat. In 2004, the film was nominated for four Academy awards, including Best Cinematography and Best Director.

In spite of the severe hardship and gut-wrenching violence, the cinematographic effects of the film leave the viewer glued to the screen. You’re immersed with intrigue, begging to hear more about the story of each character, who, at one point or another, fall prey to the evil world around them.

The visual appeal of the film cannot be overemphasized. All aspects of editing, from lighting and camera angles, to moving camera shots and mechanical distortions of movement, are pieced together in the most brilliant and fascinating forms. Visual effects are not the sole appeal of the film, as the film takes the viewer on a nose-dive into the lives of several characters, allowing the viewer to understand the characters on a personal level and, in some cases, even form strong emotional attachments. In fact, many of the actors in the film were recruited from the slums of Rio, including Alexandre Rodriques, who plays Rocket, and had actually grown up in the place the film is based upon.

In the City of God, the “hoods,” or gangsters, are the role models for little kids playing in the streets; they are the ones the little kids look up to and grow up wishing to be. However, these hoods are nothing but kids themselves, young boys, who are given a gun at a young age and made to believe that poverty can be escaped through the short lived treasures of crime. As much as one would love to see Goose, Benny, or any of the other hoods put down their guns, it is important to remember that “a hood doesn’t stop. A hood takes a break.”


Reno Stramaglia
Reno Stramaglia

Reno Stramaglia is a senior biology major at Lewis University, who commutes even though he does not live far from school. For his education, he plans to apply to medical school in spring 2017, where he wants to focus on medical genetics. Additionally, he likes to be active and visit the gym every day. He spends a lot of time studying for the MCAT and working a part-time job. The films that he enjoys watching include documentaries, comedies, action movies, and adventure films. He likes a wide variety of genres of music, too; however, his favorite types of music include Motown and The Beatles. He does not watch a lot of television but does enjoy watching the Discovery Channel and cartoon comedies like Family Guy. When he reads, it is most likely a scientific text of some sort. And, if he had to name something unique about himself, it would probably be that he taught himself how to play the keyboard, and that he is also of both Italian and Greek descent.

Donatas Ruzys
Donatas Ruzys

Donatas Ruzys is a senior at Lewis University working towards a Bachelors of Science in Biology. He was born in Lithuania and moved to the U.S. when he was nine. He has aspirations of attending medical school in the near future. Growing up, he played basketball all year round up throughout high school. Currently, he works as a medical assistant at a dermatology clinic. He also volunteers at two hospitals, and really enjoys working inside a health care setting. He enjoys most genres of movies, more specifically comedies, action movies, thrillers, and occasionally horror films. The TV shows that he is currently watching are Shameless, The Last Kingdom, and Narcos.

2 thoughts on “Student Feature: Two Reflections on the Cinematic Masterpiece, “City of God”

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